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Cooking competitions showcase culinary talent

Monday, September 26th 2011

Its that time of year again when all our favorite shows are airing new episodes as well as some new pilots. And the Food network is no different. Cooking is becoming more than a hobby for many as the cooking scene heats up. More viewers are tuning into shows that they an relate to. Check it out…

An article from Washington Square News.
by Aliza Katz

Instructive cooking TV shows are out and a new trend in food television has arrived: the cooking competition. While high regard will always be held for Paula Dean’s southern charm (and affinity for cooking fried foods), and Rachael Ray’s frantic yet clever “30-Minute Meals,” the food TV genre has shifted from showcase to showdown. Foodies and couch potatoes alike are tuning in to watch “chef-testants” battle for culinary bragging rights, cash prizes and even celebrity status. Here are some competition shows that are sure to make you salivate.

“Chopped”

“Chopped” tests each chef’s innovation and ability to think on their toes. In three rounds — corresponding to appetizer, main course and dessert — chefs are given a bizarre combination of ingredients that they must creatively incorporate into dishes. Chopped is deliciously deceptive. Somehow, chefs manage to make dishes like tomato-chocolate-tofu cake seem temptingly tasty.

“Chopped” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Food Network.

“The Great Food Truck Race”

Food trucks are everywhere these days, and what better way to celebrate these delicious, portable meals than with some competition? On this show, food truck owners travel with their trucks across the country and battle to outsell one another. “The Great Food Truck Race” is a cross between “The Amazing Race,” “The Apprentice” and a busy street corner’s Mister Softee truck. This competition is dramatic and at times reminiscent of family road trips gone awry. If you’ve been in Union Square by Palladium residence hall recently, you may have spotted Korilla, a Korean barbecue truck competing this season.

“The Great Food Truck Race” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.

“Cupcake Wars”

“Cupcake Wars” features bakers who are vying for the title of greatest cupcake baker. Bakers compete in elimination rounds leading up to a final challenge where they must create a showpiece made of cupcakes. While this show occasionally overdoses on melodramatic moments, it will certainly leave you with a sugar-high.

“Cupcake Wars” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Food Network.

“Top Chef: Just Desserts”

While some critics believe that “Top Chef: Just Desserts” fails to measure up to its predecessor, “Top Chef,” the show still delivers the same entertaining reality show-cooking competition amalgam that sets it apart from other competition shows. Hot pink embellished chef coats notwithstanding, these pastry chefs are by no means inferior to regular chefs. Creating pastries requires more skill and precision than regular cooking, and the dishes that the chefs create are more artful and dainty as a result.

“Top Chef: Just Desserts” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Bravo.

“Iron Chef America”

Based on the venerated Japanese original, “Iron Chef America” is one of the pioneer cooking competitions. In each episode, a chef faces off with one of the revered Iron Chefs and must create original and well-presented dishes with the use of a secret ingredient. Ask any insomniac, “Iron Chef America” is best watched as reruns in the middle of the night, where host Alton Brown’s witty commentary seems funnier than ever.

“Iron Chef America” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Food Network.

Aliza Katz is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]

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PHS student first Arizonan to win FCCLA scholarship

Wednesday, September 21st 2011

Melissa Hill has tasted success since starting to learn the culinary arts.

During her sophomore year, she won the FCCLA (Family Career and Community Leaders of America) Arizona state culinary championship.

Last year, she savored the success of being the first Arizonan to win an FCCLA scholarship to go to Japan as an exchange student.

Melissa Hill and an exchange student friend ate sushi while in Japan on a FCCLA scholarship.

On a Monday morning in August, Hill, now a senior, stood amongst the Cuisinarts, Kitchen Aide mixers, pots and pans of Devon Wells’ Payson High School culinary arts class to present a power point and answer questions about her trip to Japan — and encourage her fellow students to apply for the program.

The Kikkoman Corporation sponsors the scholarship and while FCCLA and the soy sauce company are both about the culinary arts, there is no guarantee the host family will have anything to do with the food industry.

But Hill just has that sort of luck. Her host family owned a restaurant that’s been in the family for 120 years and she had the chance to cook with professionals.

“The restaurant was right in front of the house. We’d walk over every night and ate in the kitchen,” said Hill.

From the start, Hill has shown focus, dedication and independence. Wells is proud of her student.

“Melissa is one whom has started out with limited knowledge and has acted like a sponge in class, acquiring what knowledge has been made available to her. I call that diligence,” said Wells of her student.

That diligence served her well in Japan. The culture respects hard work. Hill spent six weeks attending classes and immersing herself in the culture.

“I went to school every day. It started at 8 a.m. and went until 4 p.m. Then they had clubs that would keep the students in school until 7 p.m.,” she said.

Hill’s family lived in the Akita prefecture of Japan in a town called Odate. A prefecture is similar to a state or province.

Odate lies in the far north of the main island of Japan. Hill visited in the summer, but if she had visited in the winter, her family and friends told her she would have experienced extreme cold. Since she visited in summer, the weather felt palatably humid and hot.

“The school didn’t have air conditioning because of power outages due to the tsunami. It was hot,” said Hill.

Hill actually worried about how the damage from the earthquake and tsunami would affect her trip. Her good fortune held out though and her trip went smoothly.

 Hill also dressed up in traditional garb (below). Courtesy photo

Hill also dressed up in traditional garb.

The town sits so far north in Japan that Hill’s pictures showed lush green forests and vegetation. Hill also showed pictures of Akita prefecture’s famous orchards of apples and fields of blueberries — a perfect spot for a foodie to visit.

“They like ramen. They ate tons of pork. They also ate squid, fried shrimp, and eels in their cafeteria food,” said Hill.

During her presentation, Wells’ students peppered Hill with questions: “Did you have to know Japanese?”

“How did you communicate?”

“What are their houses like?”

“What are their bathrooms like?”

“What is considered impolite in Japan?”

Patiently, Hill answered their questions by explaining that she didn’t know how to speak the language before she went.

During a three-day orientation prior to leaving for Japan, she learned a few basic words. When she arrived in the country, her host family handed her a chart with simple requests listed such as, I would like a shower, or I’m hungry. None of her host family spoke much English and she forgot to bring an English/Japanese dictionary.

“If you guys go to Japan, make sure you buy one before you leave. I thought I could find one over there, but they didn’t have one,” said Hill.

Some of Hill’s pictures showed her host family’s house. They didn’t have many chairs and the beds lay on the ground.

Hill was surprised at the bathrooms, too. She said she had to take a shower and then she soaked in the tub.

“The whole room is tile with a bathtub, a hand held shower and a stool,” said Hill.

Toilets were another matter.

“Some were a hole in the ground with these feet things … I can’t really describe it, I’d rather show you a picture and I didn’t take one,” said Hill.

As to what the Japanese consider impolite, Hill learned early on to put title behind an adult’s name.

“If you don’t put a title, you’re considered a brat,” said Hill.

Overall, Hill felt honored by her chance to travel and cook in another country. She encouraged the class to apply for the scholarship.

“It wasn’t hard, the link is on the FCCLA Web site. It’s well worth applying,” said Hill.

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New Pharr school trains students in culinary arts

Tuesday, September 20th 2011

PHARR — Suzanne Beard carefully weighs a block of butter on a kitchen scale. She checks the number, and then furtively glances around the classroom before adjusting the amount and weighs it again.

Once the 22-year-old is satisfied with the reading on the scale, she measures out heavy cream for the pastry cream she’s making to fill chocolate éclairs.

“I’ve been cooking by myself since I was 14,” she said.

The Tuesday evening pastry course at the International Culinary Institute Sugar starts with a short lecture from chef instructor and coordinator Richard Weber. Then the students jump right into preparing pâte à choux, dough for éclairs, and pastry cream while Weber supervises.

Beard always enjoyed cooking and baking, but she didn’t begin a pursuit of a career in the culinary arts until she drove by the cooking school in Pharr last year.

“I’d been (in the Rio Grande Valley) about four months when I happened to drive by in December,” she said. “I’d always been interested in culinary arts, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

In 2010, her family’s trucking company relocated from Houston to Edinburg.

Beard’s passion for cooking began with learning the various fried foods her mother and grandmother would prepare.

“My family’s very Southern, so, (I would cook) pork chops, cream gravy, green beans, fried potatoes — basically, anything fried,” she said.

Now the future chef is learning about exotic cuisine and cooking techniques she never used before.

“Risotto — I’d never had that before and I loved it,” she said. “And polenta, but maybe because I have an affinity for grits.”

Sisters Mabel and Ana Benavides also are experiencing different foods.

“Paella and in the French cuisine, all the breads,” Ana said. “The focaccia, the pizza, the pasta Alfredo and chicken marsala.”

Mabel, 18, and Ana, 20, are both attending the University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College, respectively. They grew up in Mission with two similar dreams.

“I want to open my own bakery,” Mabel said.

Ana plans to help with the bakery, but she will also pursue a career in catering once she earns her associate’s degree from STC.

Weber, 27, was born in England and moved to the United States when he was 4 years old. He began an apprenticeship alongside a caterer at the age of 12.

“I started at the very bottom, like most chefs do,” he said. “Washing dishes.”

After working in various kitchens, Weber had his knife skills down, but he still wanted degrees in culinary and pastry arts, so he attended the Art Institute in Houston.

“I’ve seen some students who come in who, at first, you don’t know the school, you don’t know the students, you don’t know the classroom or the chef, and they’re very timid,” he said. “I was timid when I walked into culinary school. And I was a sous chef. I’d already been in the industry nine years.”

His experience with different chef instructors and executive chefs who ran their kitchens like boot camps inspired Weber to approach his job as a teacher with a gentler hand.

“You’ve got to teach, yes, but you’ve also got to show them that this is about passion,” he said. “And the best cooking you can do is when you’re warm and friendly and happy.”

The ICI Sugar in Pharr is the fifth culinary institute for founder Susana Garcia. The name of the institute is sort of a portmanteau of her two names.

“Sugar is something that you always like,” Garcia, 53, said. “It’s sweet; it’s something that everybody wants. So I can be sure that everybody wants to be in Sugar.”

Garcia began cooking as a young woman, but she didn’t get serious about it until she married in 1987.

She quickly mastered the art of food and began catering for those who requested her services in Tampico, Mexico.

“People started asking me, ‘Why don’t you teach this?’” Garcia said.

In 2004, she took the advice of family and friends and opened her first institute in Tampico, where there were no culinary institutes at the time, she said.

Soon afterward, she added schools in Tampico, Victoria and Monterrey.

Garcia and her family would visit her parents in the Valley often, but it wasn’t until about a year ago when her husband suggested they buy a house here that she decided to open the new school.

As Garcia was signing the check to buy their new home in the Valley, she made a promise to herself, she said.

“I said, ‘OK, you have this big gift to yourself, but with a commitment of opening a school,’” she said.

Now the Pharr campus has Garcia’s full attention — at least until she opens the next school.

“First, I want to be very well settled and organized,” she said. “If my next steps are here in the States, then I don’t know, Houston, maybe San Antonio.”

The culinary institute offers three courses: international cuisine, healthy gourmet cuisine and baking and pastry arts. A total of three chef instructors, including Weber, work at Sugar.

Currently, the school provides a diploma, or certificate, for the completion of courses, but Garcia said they will soon apply to become a fully accredited college and be able to offer degrees in culinary arts.

“I have a lot of students who I can see being chefs 10, 20 years down the line,” Weber said. “We also have students who are here because they like to cook and they just want to cook better for their families, or maybe do little soirees and parties.”

Classes are available in the morning, afternoon and evening on weekdays. The school also has started offering Saturday courses. And soon, ICI Sugar will hold day-long workshops for those who want to learn specific skills without taking a full course, such as cake decorating.

There are gardens kept on the campus grounds so students can learn the importance of using fresh vegetables and herbs.

The students all are taking with them basic skills to use in their own or professional kitchens, but Beard, the Benavides sisters agreed that it’s about more than the techniques and terms they’re learning.

“It isn’t like anything else,” Ana Benavides said about making food for others. “It’s something that’s special that people love that we make.”

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Local food, 400 miles or bust

Wednesday, September 14th 2011

According to Sustainable Food News, ‘local’ as a marketing claim has grown by 15 percent from 2009 to 2010, and it’s predicted that number will increase this year. For those of us who wish, hope and pray for more locally-grown foods, we already know this to be true. “Local” is the new green, and we’re glad. We want more.

But what does local food and farming really mean, and how can you tell the difference between what’s really local and what’s just used for marketing?

The local movement has two tines on their fork demanding clear definition by consumers: distance and ethics.

How far is local?

I live in Florida. When I’m at the grocery store and have a choice between organic produce from Mexico or organic produce from the U.S., I pick the U.S. It’s local. If I have a choice between California or Georgia, I pick Georgia. It’s local. If I have a choice between Georgia or Florida, I pick Florida. It’s local. If I have a choice between Plant City, Fla. or Christmas, Fla., I pick Christmas because it’s closer to me than Plant City. All of those choices are considered local.

In 2008, Congress passed an amendment to the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, which attempted to define the distance food can travel in order to be considered local:

  • the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or
  • the state in which the product is produced.

So that (sort of) takes care of distance, but what about the deeper meaning of “local?”

Deep thoughts on local: the ethics standpoint

Local, for many of us, means that food was grown with care, on smaller farms, by farmers who use organic methods, harvest and sell within a few days and personally travel with their produce, meat, cheese, milk and sell it directly to you. Or perhaps in slightly larger farms, there is one degree of separation – the sales person – between you and the market (as in a co-op situation or local grocery store). But that’s not always the case.

Frito Lay, for example, operates one of its plants in Central Florida where they manufacture potato chips. Some (but not all) of the potatoes used to manufacture the chips are commercially grown in Florida using conventional growing methods. According to the Consolidated Farm amendment, Frito Lay is technically using local produce in manufacturing the chips in their Florida plant. And Frito Lay uses that to their marketing advantage in the grocery stores by advertising the use of local potatoes. I don’t think that’s the kind of “local” we had in mind.

The “locavore” movement, coined in 2005, limits the 400-mile radius to just 100 miles. So the four-or-more hour journey your local food could legally take under the guise of the Consolidated Farm amendment is streamlined to a sensible and manageable one-hour journey.

One hour. Think about it. Could you forage for local food from farmers and vendors 100-miles or less from your home? You can, and you should for three reasons:

  1. By sourcing food grown less than 100 miles from your home and purchased from a small farm, your food will be fresher and will contain more nutrients.
  2. By sourcing food grown less than 100 miles from your home and purchased from a small farm, your dollars and support stay within your community.
  3. By sourcing food grown less than 100 miles from your home and purchased from a small farm, you feel good. And that’s probably the best reason of all.

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8 Tips for Navigating Farmers’ Markets

Tuesday, September 13th 2011

The recent demand for local and organic produce has resulted in a growing number of farmers’ markets popping up in local communities. The following tips can keep you from becoming overwhelmed as you peruse the stands at a new or established farmer’s market and wonder exactly how to start and what questions to ask.

  1. Take a spin. Before you buy anything, walk the entire farmers market at least once to see what’s available and where everything is located. Often times, farmers and vendors will be at the same location every week so you can go right to your favorites the next time and know which stands are selling what.
  2. Get to know them. Ask the person behind the table if they’re the farmer or work with the farmer who grew the produce. Ask how far the food traveled to get to the market, when it was harvested, and if it was grown using conventional or organic methods. Also find out if you can visit the farm (even if you have no intention of visiting). Transparency is a sign that a farm’s methods can be considered trustworthy.
  3. Bring cash. Smaller farms that harvest and sell on the same day usually keep it simple, meaning employees accept cash or check only. If a booth accepts credit or debit cards, ask when the food was harvested and from where. But bring plenty of cash to be able to buy the fruits and veggies that you need.
  4. BYOB. Bring your own bags. Don’t clutter up landfills with more plastic. Bring your own reusable shopping bags or boxes to carry purchased produce and also bring your own produce bags if you can. You can also bring a cooler on wheels to store produce and eliminate bags altogether.
  5. Buy the ugly stuff. Unlike conventionally-grown produce, organic produce isn’t put through a chemical wash n’ wax and can appear dusted with soil, dull or slightly blemished. A little bit of dirt is a great sign that it was grown with care.
  6. Shop early, shop late. You’ll find the best selection of produce when the market first opens, but you’ll find the best deals just before close. A vendor’s goal is to sell everything, so when you visit a market later in the day, you might just be able to negotiate that kind of deal you want.
  7. Bring the kids. Studies show that when kids are more involved in shopping for the foods they eat, they have a better appetite, are more willing to try new foods and develop healthier eating habits. Give each child (and adult) their own produce bag to fill with new or favorite foods.
  8. Don’t go overboard. Freshly-picked produce, especially organic, lasts only a few days. Avoid buying more than your family can eat in five days.

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Area gourmets give culinary students high marks

Monday, September 12th 2011

The Foundations Restaurant of the Platt College Culinary Department is a found treasure, not only for members of the Tulsa Chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseur – a part of the international culinary fraternity La Chaine (you pronounce it “shen”) – but also for foodies across the city and state.

A group of serious food and wine lovers enjoyed the delightful setting and gourmet menu at Foundations; proceeds from the evening went to the Platt Foundation scholarship fund.

Certified Master Chef and Chaine member Tiffany Poe, who oversees the culinary program, explained that Platt has a general education scholarship fund that provides need- and merit-based scholarships. “Companies and organizations give to it often,” she said.

La Chaine president Sue Gerkin and the Board of La Chaine made the presentation.

Everyone agreed that the convivial ambience make it a special occasion.

Foundations Restaurant reserved its facility for the event to showcase the talents of the students and the star-studded cast of staff members – some of whom are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America – and their certified wine professionals.

Chef Curt Hermann headed up the kitchen crew, while chef and certified sommelier Tim Fitzgerald ensured their guests wanted for nothing.

Chef instructor John Bieloh added his talents to the mix, along with students Andrew Taylor, Momo Caine, Jason Moore, Anessia Jackson, Neqwana Lewis, Julius Clayborn, Kelly Douglas, Meseidy Rivera and Pamela Jamaillo.

What should one expect at such an occasion?

Passed hors d ‘oeuvres of corn chowder, fresh gazpacho, as well as fig and bacon with jalapeno on a freshly chip introduced a first course of grilled mozzarella, chorizo, caper berries, oregano and heirloom tomatoes with a sherry reduction.

Fitzgerald matched the innovative course with an Austrian white, Gruner Veltliner 2008, by All Ram.

The second course offered a seared, cured duck served with house-made ravioli with beet and saffron pasta, creamed greens and duck liver, anchored by a cherry reduction and glace de canard. Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 provided a spicy red complement in the glass.

A cantaloupe sorbet was served before a dessert of elegant chocolate beggars purses with raspberries and fresh cream and a brilliant red sparkler. Pineto Brachetto d’Aqui 2010 from the Piedmonte area of northwest Italy was a delightful finale.

All in all, rave reviews for the Platt College Foundations Restaurant, which is open Wednesday through Friday serving three and four course prix fixe menu options with wines moderately priced less than $30.

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“Big Breakfast Bash” in New Milford raises money for culinary school

Friday, September 9th 2011

NEW MILFORD — Sam Hunt had a private school education and lots of choices when it came time for college.
Yet he and his family discovered soon after he began that he was not quite ready for the rigors of college. He tried some alternatives, but he struggled to find something that might lead to a satisfying career.

Then he enrolled at the Community Culinary School of Northwestern Connecticut in New Milford, a 12-week program that teaches unemployed and underemployed adults to work in the food service industry.

His father, Rob Hunt, who owns My Boy Sam’s Ltd. children’s wholesale clothing business on Wellsville Avenue, shared his son’s story Thursday morning at the school’s first “Big Breakfast Bash” in the parish hall of St. John’s Episcopal Church on the green. Hunt is a member of the school’s board of directors.

The breakfast was prepared by several graduates of Community Culinary School, including Richard Bishop Jr., who last year opened his own catering business in Brookfield.

Touting the school’s 97 percent graduation rate, Hunt said the school prepared his son to start a successful catering career in Florida. Since Sam graduated from the school in October 2010 and moved to Miami, he’s been one of the caterers for a 200-person luncheon staged by Donald Trump and a Super Bowl party hosted by rapper Snoop Dogg.

Sam Hunt and some other Miami-based chefs were recently tapped as caterers in an episode of the TV series “The Glades.” He is now employed as an event coordinator and prep chef for Eggwhites Special Events Catering in Miami.

The culinary school enabled Sam Hunt to “feel good about himself” and find a career niche, Hunt said.
In August, the school graduated its 100th student, a feat for a nonprofit organization that is self-funded with grants, donations and fundraisers, board vice president Jeff Kilberg explained.

Most of the students who enroll require scholarships to cover the $3,500 tuition.
As she finished her $10 breakfast, travel agent Tinker Hickey said she always appreciates the opportunity to “support local organization that better our town.”

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Students best professional chefs in contest

Thursday, September 8th 2011

Over the summer, while many students keep school as far from their thoughts as possible, one group of Bakersfield College culinary students traveled to the Mammoth Blue Sky Fest to take top honors in the culinary competition on July 9, against many culinary professionals, including an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.

“I don’t think we knew it was a competition on the level that it was at, because we were the only actual students there competing. Everyone else was actually culinary professionals,” said Summer LeBrecque, one of the culinary students in the competition.

“So, the fact that we actually placed first was quite a pat on the back for us just because we went up there not knowing what we were getting into, and we beat out some of the top chefs in that area,” LeBrecque said.

The dish that the team of BC students made that won the competition was Chicken Del Monaco, a dish made of breaded chicken with garlic, onions, a mixture of mushrooms, artichokes, cream sauce and seasonings. Served alongside the chicken was a salad composed of various colors of tomatoes and watermelons.

Not only did the students win an award and wooden bear trophy for their Chicken Del Monaco, they also received job offers and experience. Before the actual competition, the team helped out at various events with the very top chefs that they would defeat later.

In addition, Olimpo Alvarez and Sirahuen Martinez both received jobs after the competition, and Maura Chavez has a job offer because of the team’s victory.

“I think that added to our resumes as far as being employed by restaurants,” Martinez said. “Also, with the other chefs that were there, they were able to help us out by teaching us little techniques here or there.”

“It was a nice experience,” said Alvarez. “We all bonded, we got close.” As the team recalled the event, they all had smiles on their face as they talked about what happened.

“It was really fun, it was a really good experience,” said Martinez. “And we get to go back next year to defend our title.”

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Don’t miss the Taste of Home Cooking School in Park Rapids Sept. 10

Wednesday, September 7th 2011

The Taste of Home Cooking School Sept. 10 is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

The expo and school events are at Century School cafetorium in Park Rapids Saturday, Sept. 10.

Limited tickets are available for the cooking school at 3 p.m. The $10 tickets can be purchased at the Park Rapids Enterprise and J&B Foods or call 732-3364. The expo is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with free admission.

J&B Foods will be showcasing some new cheeses and meats during the expo that you won’t want to miss. The J&B Foods booth will also have demonstrations, said owner Bob Hensel.

VIP participants will be sampling cuisine from Denese Jokela, of Jack Pine Cafe.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this,” Jokela said.

Her mother will be flying up for the event from Topeka, Ks.

“We’ve always been fans of Taste of Home and didn’t want to miss this,” she said.

During the interactive two-hour event that starts at 3 p.m., watch top culinary expert, Guy Klinzing demonstrate new recipes that can be easily recreated at home. Armed with new culinary tips and techniques, attendees will be sure to impress family and friends with these sophisticated yet easy-to-make dishes.

Not only will attendees leave the event with new recipe ideas, they will also go home with a valuable gift bag. The ever-popular gift bags include an assortment of products and coupons. Those who attend will need to remember to enter for a chance to win one of many exciting door prizes.

For more information about Taste of Home Cooking Schools go to www.taste ofhome.com/cooking-schools. Gather up a group of friends and purchase tickets for the school at J&B Foods and the Park Rapids Enterprise or call 732-3364.

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